Sexual Assault and College Athletics

Baylor University, Vanderbilt University, and The University of Tennessee. These high profile universities are highly regarded and well known for their academic as well as athletic achievements throughout their lifetimes.

But more recently, these schools have been thrown into a more negative light, regarding the treatment of women on their campuses. Multiple reports have come out in recent years regarding the sexual assault of women by student athletes.

Vanderbilt University was enjoying a very successful era for their football program, something that is not very common for the school. Head Coach James Franklin was accomplishing what had not been done in decades for the football program. But at what cost?

In June of 2013, a woman was drugged and raped by four football players, each taking turns, and one video taping the whole incident. They were dismissed from the team and later arrested and charged with aggravated rape among other charges. They all are on trial awaiting prosecution.

Recently, a lawsuit has been filed against Baylor University for, “not [taking] any action whatsoever to investigate,” her sexual assault claim as a freshman, according to sportingnews.com. She claims the school did not offer her academic support, as her grades suffered and eventually was on academic probation and lost her scholarship. She left Baylor in 2013.

In late 2014, Michael Williams and A.J. Johnson, football players for the University of Tennessee, were charged with aggravated rape of a female student. The university has also had some negative light shed on it in the past 3 or 4 months.

Eight Jane Does filed a lawsuit against the university in February, 7 of which claiming to have been sexually assaulted by student athletes, and that the university promoted a culture of tolerance towards student athletes alleged of sexual assault. Incidents listed in the lawsuit consist of a timeline dating back to an incident involving Peyton Manning mooning a trainer in 1997, up to as recently as February of this year.

I do not mean to debate the truthfulness of these claims in this post, rather to discuss these occurrences from a different angle: Why? Why so many incidents in the previous years involving student athletes and sexual assault?

Once again, I don’t want to presume innocence or guilt to the accused unless a ruling has been given in a court of law. So I will try to present this in the most unbiased way possible.

As a fan of the University of Tennessee athletic program, it is my initial reaction to want to defend the student athlete of my school, because I don’t want to believe that the people I root for and support assault women. As Dr. Clair Walsh, former director of the sexual assault recovery program at the University of Florida said,“The entire group will fall behind the accused and deny an offense has been committed. The entire community associated with this group will come to its defense. In every single case they will deny there was gang rape but that there was group sex.” However, one had to admit, with so many claims there has to be some merit.

So why is there a correlation between college athletes and sexual assault? Some would argue the players feel a sense of entitlement and feel like they are untouchable, which would arise from being star athletes their entire life and getting typically whatever they want. Ken Dryden, a Hall of Fame NHL goalie and now lawyer stated, “It’s really a sense of power that comes from specialness … anyone who finds himself at the center of the world [he’s] in has a sense of impunity.”

I found a couple really good articles that talk some more about this topic, one at pact5.org and one at nytimes.com. To sum them up, there are multiple reasons athletes commit sexual assault, ranging from peer pressure, to the way women are viewed in our society, as rewards or trophies.

As for me, I am ashamed of the way our society is headed. Chivalry and respect for women sometimes feels like it is completely gone from society, and it is so sad to see our morals crumble. Assuming that just even some of the allegations are true, we see so many lives effected and people, real people, who are victims of rape and other sexual crimes, suffer.

So what now? What can we do about these issues that face us now? From my experience, those who have influenced me in my life have set examples on how to live and how to act. We all have circles of influence in our own lives, we have people that look up to and respect us, and we can use our examples of making the right decisions and treating others with respect to help others see a better, more moral way.

I know this is just a humble opinion of a college student in Idaho, just one of 8 billion voices in the world, but this is an issue that means a lot to me, and I hope maybe something I have said can help make somebody better, or make the difference in one life. Thank you all for reading, pass it on to others.

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